Shiso Pesto Miso Tomato Pasta

This summer,
I fell in love.


Biting into a warm garden tomato, fingers smelling of the vine, lips slurping to catch all of the sweet ripe freshness, is the essence of summer. The scent of summer has always been basil—even in mid-winter when the herb comes from half a world away, I can close my eyes, sniff a leaf and experience summer again.

Fresh tomatoes and basil are a love-match.

Here I made pesto for the penne and served it over a very lightly cooked tomato and summer squash sauce.

One can be


in summer…

As well as tomato loves basil, the pair is out of sequence in my garden. Basil becomes a bush well before most of the tomatoes are ripe. No amount of pinching out the flowers seems to hold it back. Basil gets old, thin and yellow before the tomatoes mature.
Here, I made ramen noodles with scallops and shrimp, a dashi-tomato-rice vinegar sauce topped with toasted sesame seeds.
Based on hiyashi Chuka soba.

And so a justification for my love affair.
The shiso we planted started slowly, growing gently as the summer passed: tender leaves to accent the flavors of summer vegetables, add color to chicken or rice. Just as the bigger best-er-est tomatoes ripened, the shiso became robust.

Do you see the betrayed basil: old, dry around the edges, big bitter flowers going to seed before its time? And there is the shiso looking so vibrant with its delicate juicy buds that it is blushing with exuberance.

Note the osage oranges, an autumnal inedible but decorative fruit—a gift from a friend who accepted some of my basil.

I’ll admit, my first experiments with shiso began in August.
I thought about pesto, an illicit new version of pesto using shiso, a tasty adventure from the condoned basil.
Go ahead, click the pic—it’s not so bad to sometimes stray from the norm!
it was delicious.

As lovely and organic as shiso is, it does have a sort of day-old stubble which collects some debris. If you like smooth and clean, then you must wash the leaves carefully to get rid of spider webs, dust, and whatever miscellaneous attitudes rough textures collect. I clean all greens in a large pot of water, stirring it, then letting the dirt settle, gently pulling out the leaves from the top. Works a charm.

For herbs and salad greens, I have discovered a simple spinner to whirl them dry.
I used to wrap the greens in a dish towel and spin around outside the back door to remove the water.
Like a crazy person.
This little plastic spinner is much more efficient
and sophisticated.

Peeled, crushed, and lightly cooked tomatoes make a simple summer sauce. Cut an X in the skin on the blossom end, and remove a cone from the stem end. Put the tomatoes into vigorously boiling water. When the X begins to expand, douse each tomato in ice-water. Peel the skin with your fingers. Slice the tomatoes into wedges. Over a strainer, smoosh the seeds from the flesh. Save the tomato water for another use. Crush or tear the fruit into bite-sized pieces.

I made a pistou by chopping a clove of garlic and a ½ cup of shiso with ¼ cup of good olive oil. Pistou is the French herb-oil version of pesto, without the nuts. The clean flavor of shiso is prominent, uncompromised by almonds or cheese. Thin spaghetti was cooked al denté, tossed with the pistou, and served over fresh tomatoes. A little salt and pepper and the dish was luscious.

My pièce de résistance includes mushrooms, especially the large king oyster mushrooms, also known as king trumpet mushroom, French horn mushroom, and eringi エリンギ. When cooked, it develops typical mushroom umami flavors with a meaty texture.

For contrast I also used enoki (Japanese language:榎, エノキ) mushrooms: the ones with the long thin stems and tiny caps. They are best eaten raw for their crispy texture.

The tomato season has ended, but we still have tomatoes from the garden which were almost ripe before the cold. They are ripening in a bowl, with some apples for luck (or more likely the ethylene gas). They don’t have as much juicy-to-the core delight; in fact some of them have the familiar flavorless whitish heart of a grocery-store tomato.

It occurred to me that miso would add the missing umami to these poor orphans.

Notice the osage orange, the black one? I poked whole cloves into it: I usually keep it in the foyer so when you visit, you’ll notice the scent as you come in.

For 4 servings:
Make a pistou with a clove of garlic and a cup of shiso with ½ cup of good olive oil. I found that using my suribachi made a much smoother sauce than using the mini-food processor. But it was hard to clean out all those grooves!
Slice the king oyster mushrooms. Sauté in a bit of olive oil and grated garlic.
Cut off the root end of the bunch of enoki, and slice in half lengthwise (easier to eat).
Peel and squish out the seeds of 7 to 10 nice tomatoes. Crush them.
Warm the tomatoes, just until they start to break down: you want to retain the fresh flavor! Stir and blend in about 1 generous Tablespoon of white miso.
Cook and drain your spaghetti. Toss the pasta with the shiso pistou.
Divide the sauce among 4 pasta plates, place the noodles over the tomatoes, and garnish with toasted sesame seeds or shredded nori.


9 thoughts on “Shiso Pesto Miso Tomato Pasta

  1. Thank you for comments. We are well!
    I’m sorry to hear about your dad.
    I want to talk with my father, as I am two kids mother.
    Fortunately, my kids and husband are OK! After earthquake, some Japanese foods have harmful rumor. I think It is difficult to overcome sometimes. I try to buy foods which were made in Tohoku region.
    And I restart to write my blog.

    • I’m happy that you are all well. The day of the earthquake was the day my father died. It was a coincidence that will make me remember that day with much sympathy for the others who died.
      I have heard about the rumors of contaminated food from Fukushima, but I don’t know what is true or false. Is your family (father, mother, siblings) from Tohoku region?

  2. Looks great! I also started experimenting with making pesto and pistos with other greens than basil. My favorite has become sorrel. With its natural lemony taste, it refreshed many of our summer meals. Last week, in fact, we ate the last of the sorrel and basil growing on our balcony.:(

    • I’ll have to try planting sorrel next spring: so many enticing descriptions of it online! Lemony sounds so refreshing for summer.
      Pine nuts get rancid so quickly and some sold here are already “off,” so I have also experimented with pesto using other nuts: almonds, skinned walnuts (I do not like the bitter taste of the inner skin), and sunflower seeds. Very round flavor with sunflower seeds.

      • Tess, see if you can find red walnuts. They are delicious and don’t have a bitter taste at all, though they can be difficult to find. The skin on the nut is a reddish brown color, thus the name, I suppose.
        I dislike pine nuts, so I’ve used other nuts for ages, now. With regular walnuts, I toast lightly for five minutes or so which helps to take away the bitter taste for me, at least.
        You might even like pistachios.
        Your dish looks beautiful and I’m sure the taste was special.

  3. Gosh I have never thought to use shiso or sorrel for pesto but I like the cut of your collective jib. I have used aragula, even humble parsley and rounded it out with garlic, chives, walnuts and walnut oil. But you have both set me thinking…I guess the sorrel was used raw – it cooks to mush quickly on the flame. One of our great Australian food writers Gay Bilson, in her book Plenty, speaks lovingly of deveining sorrel leaves before adding them to soup. This was a revelation to me. If you don’t want this labour you have to harvest only the tender, young leaves.
    And the osage orange! How wonderfully peculiar they are. I have seen them as a powder for pot pourri I think but never dreamt they were so exotic. Worth having a tree! Are they used for dye or to mordant dye? And to stick them with cloves is an novel idea. I have done oranges with cloves – once making paisley designs on them and piling them in a bowl – but boy did it make my fingers hurt after doing ten or so.

    • Parsley and sunflowers seeds make a good pesto: very different.

      I read somewhere that the most tedious job is separating thyme leaves from their stems. Tried it a few times and was surprised at how long it takes to get even a couple of tablespoons: a labor of love! That’s another thing I should plant next spring. Guess I’m already starting my garden list for next spring. I need Chinese chives too.

      Apparently one can cut the osage oranges, and pick the seeds from the pulp to eat, but wow: another boring task. I don’t wonder enough if they taste good to try it.

      People made clove apples pomanders to bring to synagogue on Yom Kippur, because the fragrance of the apple and cloves helped ease hunger during the fast. We used to make clove apples when we were kids. But I think it was something to keep us busy. And we had lots of apples from the trees in our yard.

      Osage oranges are hard, and I bought the cloves from an Indian store, cheap but rather dried and fragile. Even though I used toothpicks to poke the holes (hard to see with all the brain ridges), my fingers were sore. I tried to make one for my friend as well, but only got halfway before I had to quit. Don’t know if she finished it or not!

      I don’t doubt that they could be used for dye. My fingers were certainly stained yellow orange!

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